Moral conflict and the logic of rights

  • Robert MullinsEmail author


The paper proposes a revised logic of rights in order to accommodate moral conflict. There are often said to be two rival philosophical accounts of rights with respect to moral conflict. Specificationists about rights insist that rights cannot conflict, since they reflect overall deontic conclusions. Generalists instead argue that rights reflect pro tanto constraints on behaviour. After offering an overview of the debate between generalists and specificationists with respect to rights, I outline the challenge of developing a logic of rights-reasoning that is compatible with generalism. I then proceed to offer a new logical framework, which utilizes a simple non-monotonic logic of practical reasoning. Both generalist and specificationist interpretations of the logic are explored. The revised logic shows that traditional characterizations of the debate between specificationists and generalists obscure other relevant philosophical positions.


Rights Moral conflict Hohfeld Specificationism Generalism 



The ideas developed in this paper emerged from earlier papers presented at the University of Bayreuth on two occasions. The first occasion was the 13th International Conference on Deontic Logic and Normative Systems in 2016. The second occasion was the 3rd Meeting of the Permissions, Information and Institutional Dynamics, Obligations and Rights Project Group in 2017. I am grateful to reviewers and audience members for their thoughtful discussion of these earlier papers. I am especially grateful for conversations with Olivier Roy and Huimin Dong. Finally, I would like to thank an anonymous referee for this journal, whose comments have greatly improved this article.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TC Beirne School of LawUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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